Does God Approve of Rape? (Dark Passages)

What difference would it make whether a rape happened in a city or in the country?
What difference would it make whether a rape happened in a city or in the country? (photo: Register Files)

A charge made by some atheists is that the Bible supports rape and that the God of the Bible is therefore a moral monster.

There are a number of passages they appeal to, attempting to document this claim, but do they really support the charge that is being made?

Let's look at the matter . . .


What Does God Think of Rape?

(NOTE: This post is part of a series on the "dark passages" of the Bible. Click here to see all of the posts in the series.)

The claim that God has a favorable attitude toward rape is implausible on its face.

In all of the Bible passages that are cited to show this, the people involved are either married or unmarried. To rape a married woman would be forcible adultery, and to rape an unmarried woman would be forcible fornication.

As everyone knows, both adultery and fornication are strictly forbidden in the Bible. Doing either one forcibly would just make matters worse.

And, in fact, adultery carried the death penalty in the Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 22

[22] "If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; so you shall purge the evil from Israel."

We'll deal with the subject of the Old Testament's harsh legal penalties--including the death penalty--in another post, but for now let's look at a couple of the passages that are being cited as evidence that "God approves of rape" . . .


Sex in the City

In fact, let's continue on with the verses that immediately follow the one quoted above, which dealt with the classic situation of adultery. It established the death penalty for adultery, where both the man and the woman consent to the act, but how was this principle to be applied in related cases? One of them that gets discussed is this:

[23] "If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her,

[24] then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you."

Here we are dealing with the case of a betrothed virgin, not a woman who has been cohabiting with her husband. Already, she is legally married, as the next verse indicates. If a man violates her then he has "violated his neighbor's wife."

This situation of a married woman who is still a virgin seems unusual to us, because in our cultures the point at which marriage is contracted and the point at which it is consummated are usually separated by only a few hours, but in ancient Israel it was typically much longer.

The situation is thus, in principle, the same as if she had been cohabiting with her husband. She is already legally married, and so if she willingly has sex with a man other than her husband, it counts as adultery.

Despite the fact that this is sometimes portrayed as a "death to the rape victim" passage, that is not what it is. Note that it specifies that the woman is put to death "because she did not cry for help though she was in the city."

The fact that nobody heard her cry for help in a populated area is taken as evidence that she consented to the sex act, under the longstanding (!) legal principle qui tacit consentire, or "silence means consent."

You can argue that a more refined application of this principle is desirable, and--indeed--the Old Testament Law foresaw a role for human judgment in sorting out the facts of the case (as applied by a trial at the city gates), but this law is not prescribing the death penalty for rape victims.

It's trying to provide an objective way of telling rape from adultery: If other parties heard the woman cry out then she's a rape victim and is not to be put to death.

The law is not trying to have rape victims killed. Quite the opposite. It's saying, "Do not automatically assume that every sexual act is adultery. Some are not consensual, and the woman is not to be punished in those cases."

The law is even willing to extend the presumption of non-consent to a woman in the very next case examined . . .


Rape in the Country

The passage continues:

[25] "But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die.

[26] But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor;

[27] because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her."

Here the woman is presumed to be a victim of rape. It is assumed that she did scream for help, but because the country isn't populated like the city, nobody heard her.

Note that this means that the law was willing to let certain adulteresses go free. The ancient Israelites weren't stupid. They knew that a sexual act performed in a deserted spot could be consensual. But the woman carries a presumption of innocence because there would have been nobody to hear her cry out.

Unlike in a densely-packed, walled city (the kind that has gates, where the trial and any subsequent punishment were supposed to take place), where people were jammed in together far more closely than in a modern city, and where a scream would be heard.

So the law does not have an anti-victim bias here. It's trying to help people distinguish between cases of adultery and cases of rape. If the crime occurs in the city and the woman screams, she's identified as a victim. If it occurs in the country, whether she screamed or not, she is presumed to have screamed and thus presumed to have been a victim.

In each of these cases, though, the man is regarded as guilty.

And in neither of these cases does God approve of rape.

We will look at additional passages in a future post.


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